Rifle development, standardization, and procurement in the United States military 1950-1967
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The conclusion of the Second World War found the American military questioning its current arsenal of small arms. The wide array of sub-machineguns, rifles, and carbines did not share any common parts or ammunition. The difficulties in supplying troops with parts and ammunition during the war, combined with perceived deficiencies in the designs motivated United States Army Ordnance to start a project to replace all shoulder fired weapons with a single design and employing a single cartridge. However, the specifications set forth were unrealistic, and the project lacked significant funding. The Army Ordnance Light Rifle Project, plagued with funding issues and the impossible requirements became a project of compromises as Army Ordnance promoted their cartridge for adoption as the NATO standard. However, the conservative viewpoint of the United States Army, and the innovative European rifles and cartridges created a conflict between American and British politicians, damaging relations, and severely limiting the success of NATO standardization.
While American ordnance officials successfully resisted European rifles and cartridges, challenges from the American commercial sector injected innovative ideas just as younger officers and civilians from within United States Army Ordnance challenged the traditional ideas of combat and rifle development promoted by Army Ordnance leaders. Army Ordnance, using possible biased testing procedures and questionable tactics resisted these challenges and successfully promoted the traditional rifle development programs, resulting in the adoption of the M-14 rifle and 7.62 NATO cartridge by the United States Armed Forces in May, 1957. However, the continuing problem of limited funds, combined with mismanagement, and political interference created long delays in procurement of the M-14 rifle. Procurement delays eventually caused Secretary of Defense McNamara to end M-14 procurement and adopt a commercial design from Colt, the AR-15 to replace the ordnance corps' rifle. However, the procurement and production of the AR-15/M-16 rifle was plagued by problems, creating a rifle that failed in the Vietnam War so frequently that congressional investigations became necessary to correct the problem. The investigations placed blame on the Secretary of Defense, Colt, and the civilian lead Technical Coordination Committee that developed the M-16 for procurement. The result of the nearly two decade long dilemma to re-arm the American soldier with a modern rifle was a failure, and seriously tarnished the M-16 for the rest of the Vietnam War.